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Apple Lisa Computer Commentary 
Larry Tesler • 28 November 2000 


http:// www. print/ 0,23102, 3013380, 00. html 

lOJuly 2003 

Tales from Tessler: History of the Lisa Computer 

Larry Tesler, former Xerox PARC researcher and Apple chief scientist 
explains the impact of the Lisa, a computer ahead of its time. 

By Larry Tesler, C EO Stagecast 

Apple introduced the revolutionary Lisa computer in 1983, but only about 30,000 were 
sold. The productwas overpriced and slow. It also entered the marketon the heels of the 
popular Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, which established the IBM PC as the standard in 
business. But this did n't stop the Lisa from pointing the way to the future of personal 

Why was the Lisa slow? 

Because itdidn't have enough power to run the demanding graphical user interface. 
Here's how it compares to my G4 Cube: 


PowerMac G4 Cube| 


5 MHz 1 6/32 bit 

450 MHz 32 bit 

Maximum Memory 


1 ,500MB 

Standard disk 

0.8MB Floppy 

20,000MB Ultra ATA 

Apple Lisa Computer Commentary 
Larry Tesler • 28 November 2000 • 1 of 3 

Even that low-power setup was too expensive to compete with an MS-DOS PC, which had 
a quarter of the memory and an 8-bit microprocessor. 

What Survives from Apple's Lisa? 

Although Lisa came and went almost in the blink of an eye, many of its features are still 
found in today's Windows PCs and Macintosh computers. 

Lisa's Pioneering Features 

A menu bar with pull-down menus and identified keyboard shortcuts 
File menu commands named New, Open, Close, Save, Save as, and Print 
Windows and icons moved by pointing, clicking, and dragging 
Dialog boxes with radio buttons, check boxes, and OK/Cancel buttons 
Alert boxes to provide warnings and explain errors 

Lisa innovations incorporated into the 1984 Macintosh included those listed above, plus: 


• The one-button mouse 

• The ImageWriter WYSIWYG ("whatyou see is whatyou get") printer 

User interface 

• A menu bar spanning the top of the screen 

• Windows that visually zoom when they open and close 

• The appearance and layout of scroll bars and the window resize corner 

• Rounded-corner buttons in dialogs 

Application software 

• LisaProject, the first such application that allowed the user to drag task boxes 
to change the schedule (became MacProject) 
LisaDraw (became MacDraw) 
LisaWrite (word-processing) 
LisaCalc (a spreadsheet) 
LisaGraph (a charting program) 
LisaTerminal (a Telnet-like program) 
LisaList (a simple data base program) 

The Lisa Desktop Manager influenced the design of the Macintosh Finder. 
Lisa's printing software heavily influenced the original Mac equivalent. 

Apple Lisa Computer Commentary 
Larry Tesler • 28 November 2000 • 2 of 3 

How PARC Influenced the Lisa 

Lisa was notthe beginning of this graphical revolution. Many of the ideas in the Lisa were 
inspired by previous work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). 

PARC's innovations 

The Ethernet 

The laser printer 

The personal computer with a mouse and bit-mapped (pixel-based) graphics 

WYSIWYG editing of memos, email, illustrations, and animations 

Menu commands named Cut, Copy, and Paste 

Overlapped windows with scroll bars 

Multi-frame browsing windows 

Some of the PARC work was first commercialized in the Xerox Star, a 1981 client-server 
system that anticipated the Sun workstation. Star workstations featured a two-button 
mouse. The user interface introduced many innovations, including desktop icons and 
property dialogs. 

The Star directly influenced Microsoft Windows. As in Windows 1.0, windows on the Star 
were tiled instead of overlapped. Although the Star appeared too late to have much 
influence on the Lisa, its use of desktop icons put pressure on Apple to adopt an iconic 
desktop. The Lisa team had prototyped this desktop but had not planned to ship it. 

Much of PARC's work was in turn inspired by prior research, especially that of Doug 
Engelbart, whose group at SRI developed the mouse, hypertext linking, shared 
teleconferencing, outline editors, and much more. 

Learn More About Apple's Lisa 

Download Lisa documentation and Lisa Software. The software won't do you much good 
unless you have Lisa hardware. But there is a longstanding project to develop a Lisa 

More Lisa links 

• The Computer Museum History Center 

• The Museum of Dead, Gone, and Obsolete Computers 

• Unofficial Apple History 

Originally posted November 28, 2000 


Apple Lisa Computer Commentary 
Larry Tesler • 28 November 2000 • 3 of 3